Rubisco is the main enzyme that is responsible for capturing carbon dioxide and turning it into sugars for the plant. Turns out, that while Rubisco is one of the most vital components of photosynthesis—it’s not very good at its job in most crops such as cowpeas, soybeans, and rice. About 35 percent of the time, Rubisco tries to fix oxygen instead of carbon dioxide. This error produces a carbon compound called glycolate that the plant must recycle to salvage a portion of carbon that can be used in photosynthesis. This recovery process, however, costs the plant a large amount of energy. The RIPE team has created a shorter recovery pathway, conserving energy and resources that the plant can reinvest to increase crop productivity by as much as 40 percent, according to work published in Science in 2019. Right now our team is translating these findings to key food crops including potatoes and soybean.
This fall, RIPE Postdoctoral Researcher Amanda Cavanagh taught two fifth grade classes about the project's breakthrough work to improve crops.
The RIPE project has engineered a shortcut for photorespiration—an energy-expensive process—and increased crop productivity by 40 percent.
Instead of turning carbon into food, many plants accidentally make a plant-toxic compound during photosynthesis that is recycled through a process called photorespiration. University of Illinois and USDA/ ARS researchers report in Plant Cell the discovery of a key protein in this process, which they hope to manipulate to increase plant productivity.